COMMENT:

The Chinese state-owned Global Times has sent a message that the New Zealand Government's final attitude toward Huawei can be seen as a litmus test for its promise not to discriminate against PRC-owned companies.

Repairing New Zealand's position on China depends not only on what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, but also on "what her Government actually does", the paper opined in an editorial which also says that China should distinguish between how it treats Australia and New Zealand.

"China has to treat New Zealand and Australia differently, and will concentrate more pressure on Australia," the Global Times said.

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"Australia sees itself as a middle-sized power and a large country in its region. It intends to use the support of the US to achieve greater geopolitical ambitions ... New Zealand is a country that places greater emphasis on its economic interests."

Notwithstanding the Huawei issue — and New Zealand's newly-found voice on vexed matters like the South China Sea — this country has adopted a much more diplomatic stance towards China than our nearest neighbour.

Sure, there is a parliamentary select committee inquiry which will take evidence from Christchurch professor Anne-Marie Brady on her allegations of Chinese interference in New Zealand's domestic environment and also examine the level of foreign donations — not just from China — as it delves into the latest general election. But much is still business as usual.

However in Australia, Beijing is still upset about Australia's decision to ban Huawei from participating in the rollout of its 5G network.

The constant flow of allegations of Chinese interference — some new ones were broadcast on ABC's Four Corners programme this week — has not diminished.

Ardern has dismissed a Four Corners allegation that the Chinese Ministry of State Security was behind the alleged break-ins at Brady's office.

She is endeavouring to box clever. China will be watching the outcome of the NZ parliamentary inquiry.

Australia's relationship with China took a tumble when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull oversaw hardline moves by his Government to bring in new laws to combat the risk of foreign interference in Australian democracy and political institutions.

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If compelling evidence is presented to the NZ parliamentary inquiry, legislative recommendations may follow. This is an arena in which New Zealand has to stay true to its values and its interests.

The Global Times observation is salutary that "as a small island country in the South Pacific, New Zealand is naturally insecure and that makes it difficult to give up the protection of the US and Australia. Its real dilemma is the hijacking of its largest trading relationship by the US and Australia. China needs to take action so that New Zealand does not follow their policy toward China".

It notes that New Zealand is under great pressure from both the United States and Australia on China. But it is different from Australia, since its "attitude is more pragmatic".

In fact, Australia is moving to adopt a pragmatic stance by beefing up the 40-year-old Australia China Council as it endeavours to strengthen its ties with China. Foreign Minister Marise Payne has announce a funding boost from $A900,000 ($952,042) annually to $A44 million over five years.

It will also be renamed The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations. It would promote Australian excellence in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, health and ageing and the environment and energy.

And it will provide practical support and expertise to Australian stakeholders developing links and exchanges with counterparts in China, including increased visits by politicians to both countries.

Payne said the remit and resourcing of the council have remained static even as China has transformed and the countries' bilateral ties had dramatically expanded in breadth and complexity.

"We have different perspectives on some important issues and the new foundation will encourage and enable considerable constructive discourse and engagement between our two countries."

The challenge for New Zealand is to stay focused on an independent path.